Organizers estimate that roughly 70,000 students and advisors attended the event at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds this year. I feel like I must have visited with about 69,000 of them from the booth hosted by the National Bison Association. It was exhausting. But it was fun. And, it gave me a strong shot of encouragement for the future of agriculture and our food system.
For those unfamiliar, the FFA is what was formerly known as Future Farmers of America. It is composed primarily of high school students involved in vocational agricultural studies, along with their adult advisors. For three days each year, tens of thousands of students dressed neatly in blue corduroy jackets and black slacks and skirts wander the exhibition hall as they consider their career path.
The major chemical and biotech companies show up each year with dazzling pavilions and giveaways designed to entice the students and teachers to continue along the path of conventional agriculture, with its dependence on chemicals, GMO’s and capital-intensive machinery. Those pavilions attract long lines of FFA members.
But the students and advisors can see beyond the free Frisbees and glitzy light shows.
At a simple booth with little more than a large head-mount of a bison bull, the FFA members peppered us with questions about getting started in a growing sector of alternative agriculture. I checked with the people staffing the handful of booths from companies and agencies involved in organic agriculture. They reported the same experience.
Students are seeking solid answers. Teachers want to expose their classes to a broad range of alternatives. We have to show up to provide the answers and information.